|Index||4 reviews in total|
This final movie from America's favorite Cowboy has all the elements
that made Gene Autry a legend. As always, the action, pacing and
supporting cast are top-notch. It was nice to see Gene's longtime
sidekick Smiley Burnette back in the saddle again in the final films of
Even folks who are not fans of the singing cowboys will be entertained by Autry's homage to the Pony Express.
Autry's post-war films feature less music, more interesting story lines and appropriate budgeting. This film is no exception, ,mixing history, humor and action to create a fitting swan-song for Gene, Smiley and the World's Wonder Horse.
Good, strong story line lifts this final Autry programmer above the
usual. Just as in real life, Gene sees a good business opportunity
where others don't-- in the movie it's stage-line mail delivery
replacing the older, more limited pony express. But he can't convince
his pony express employer to partner up in starting a stage-line.
Still, Gene's a loyal cuss, and can't bring himself to ignore the
express when bad guy rivals try to sabotage his former boss. There are
more plot complications and character conflict than usual, probably
reflecting a need to break away from old formulas.
Dick Jones makes an energetic express rider, even getting to passion-kiss Elizabeth Taylor look-alike Kathleen Case. Of course, by this time Gene's nearly 50 and looking understandably middle-aged, so the kids carry much of the plot. Two of the highlights-- the bucking bronco scene is very well done, while Gene's little singing duet with Burnette comes across as a delightfully fitting farewell to a memorable movie partnership.Also, I was kind of hoping that Gene, who started out as a telegrapher, would get a last scene working the telegraph. But maybe he didn't know his role here would be his final feature (the TV series ended in 1955). Anyway, this is not only an entertaining 60 minutes, but also an interesting and informative one as well. A quality final note for a much beloved performer and cowboy icon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wonder if Gene Autry's comment in my summary line above triggered any
emotion over the fact that his own movie and TV Western career would
soon be over, giving way to perhaps an even more successful business
and entrepreneurial one. For Gene, this was a passing of the West tale
in more ways than one, as "Last of the Pony Riders" wound up being his
very last feature film.
Fittingly, Smiley Burnette's on hand for this ride into the sunset, along with Dickie Jones, a mainstay from Gene's TV show in which he portrayed various characters depending on the story line. I've always thought that Jones was the best rider to ever don a pair of buckskins, and he shows that prowess here with a number of those mounts where he parallels his body to an already running horse, and lowers his legs, hitting the ground to catapult into the saddle. There's probably a name for that maneuver, but I've never heard it, so you'll have to bear with that lengthy description.
There's something else Jones does in the picture that got my attention - he rolls his own cigarette! I only bring that up because my father used to roll his own too - his smoke of choice was Buckhorn.
As far as the story goes, Gene's a Pony Express rider who realizes that the coming of the stage coach and telegraph spell the end of the line for his profession. Interestingly, Gene maintains a personal code that requires looking after his former employer's interest even after he's been fired for investing in a stage coach himself. Autry gives a rousing speech when it appears that Johnny Blair (Jones) is about to quit from the pressure of riding, encouraging the youngster to have faith in himself and not give up. It's the kind of message that earned Autry a place in the hearts and minds of Americans growing up, dating as far back as the Great Depression. Seems to me the country could use a few more voices today that carry the same message of faith and encouragement.
Pony Express line rider Gene Autry realizing the changes that will soon
come with the new invention of the telegraph, announces his plans to
leave the company and start his own stage line to capture what will be
a newly created freight and bulk mail business. When he offers his
boss, Pony Express Agent owner Tom McEwen (John Downey) a full
partnership in the new venture, he is abruptly fired because of his
perceived disloyalty. Seizing upon the opportunity, corrupt local
banker Clyde Vesey and his henchmen (Howard Wright, Arthur Space and
Gregg Barton) try to hasten the demise of the Pony Express and capture
the new mail contract for themselves by sabotaging the mail runs of
Express Rider Johnny Blair (Dickie Jones).
Progress, change and advancing technology was a dominant theme in the later post-war Autry Westerns and never more so than in this movie . After watching Last of the Pony Riders it's evident it was a skillfully engineered allegorical tale and ride into the big screen sunset for Gene. Employing a screenplay by never before used writer Ruth Woodman, it's a crafted parable mirroring Gene's real life and a decision on whether to stick with the past, a very successful past, or embrace an imminent future. Gene had walked a fine line when he began filming his own television series between alienating his relationship with movie distributors and theater owners or accepting the changing entertainment landscape that the new medium of television would create. The same type relationship that Gene's character in this movie has with the Pony Express and a new economic future created by the telegraph.
Pony Riders was the end of the silver screen trail for Gene. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries who limped out under the strain of ever declining budgets, Gene owning his own production company was able to finish on a high note. Gene was in the third year of his television series and this picture employed a lot of Autry TV regulars. It also brings back sidekick Smiley Burnette who Autry began his starring film run with almost twenty years before. It was good to see Gene and Smiley get in one last duet before signing off.
Last of the Pony Riders is an entertaining movie in it's own right but also worth watching to see the the last B-Western made by one of the pioneers of the genre.
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